* Alley Valkyrie has a great post up at the Wild Hunt blog. Discussing her move to the Willamette Valley, Valkyrie says:
[W]ithin the first few months of my living here, it occurred to me more and more that not only was [a] tale [about how the area got its name] most likely false, but that I was quite disconnected from the history of this valley that I chose as home. Prior to moving to Oregon, I had lived my entire life within a 100-mile radius of New York City, and I was quite well-versed in the history of the New York area, from the landing of the Mayflower through the present. That knowledge, especially as it relates to the land itself, became central to my spiritual exploration and practice when I lived on the East Coast. Researching and examining the history of place in relation to the activities, energies and present tendencies within that place was a source of constant fascination for me, and became essential to my practice in terms of navigating a dense urban landscape from an energetic perspective.
I think she make a very worthwhile point about the relationship between being a Pagan and working with the energies of any place, but particularly the sort of “dense urban landscape” in which most modern Pagans live and practice.
If you, like Valkyrie, were lucky enough to grow up mostly in one place, you probably learned a bit of local history, geology, etc. in elementary or middle school. But we’re a transient people and college, work, marriages, and sometimes just plain wanderlust often take us far from our childhood homes. I’d argue that, in those circumstances, it’s very important for Pagans to consciously establish a relationship with their new landbase, watershed, Witchplace.
In From the Forest: A Search for the Hidden Roots of Our FairyTales, Sara Maitland notes that:
Most places have several histories. For example, they have a “natural history” in their geology, climate, flora and fauna, and so on, and they also have a “political history,” which tells us about who owns them and to what end and how that came to be the case. These are never totally separate histories, they are human histories, and they affect and entangle with each other and cannot be divided tidily.
Out of this relationship between these (and other) histories emerges a different sort of history: an imaginative history, a complex cultural narrative about how a place or particular type of landscape is perceived and pictured. . . . This history, too, weaves itself inextricably into the others and affects them . . . .
I think this is what Valkyrie is talking about when she says:
I felt a need to connect to both the timeline-based history of this valley as well as to the land itself, and I decided to start educating myself in local history using the “valley of sickness” tale as a starting point.
Picking a particular local myth, as Valkyrie did, and running it to ground is one way to connect to the political or time-line based history of a place and, thereby, with the land itself. I’ve been suggesting other methods in my Place Without a Witch series.
Reading, either on-line or in books (which can often be found at the local library) about the flora, fauna, and political history of the area, even before you move, can provide a working background. Lots of counties offer low-cost adult education classes, as do many local historical societies, garden clubs, bird-watching groups, etc. Local history “walks” — either with a group or with a guide book, are another good way to begin to connect with a place, especially a “dense urban landscape.” Visiting local farmers’ markets and getting to know the people who raise your food, getting involved in local politics, asking elders to tell you about their experiences — there are dozens of ways to begin to enter into a knowing relationship with your newly-adopted Witchplace.
But in the end, a real relationship also requires spending time with the land. Molly Remer talks about this at PaganSquare:
I maintain a daily spiritual practice of visiting the same sacred spot in the woods behind my house. I go to sit or stand on the large stones that rest there and I’ve found that when I open my mouth, poetry comes out. I’ve come to describe this experience as theapoetics: the direct experience of the Goddess through poetry in nature.
I explained my theory and experiences of theapoetics in one of my early posts for the Feminism and Religion project:
In the woods behind my house rest a collection of nine large flat rocks. Daily, I walk down to these “priestess rocks” for some sacred time alone to pray, meditate, consider, and be. Often, while in this space, I open my mouth and poetry comes out. I’ve come to see this experience as theapoetics—experiencing the Goddess through direct “revelation,” framed in language.
How deep is your relationship to your watershed? How have you worked at developing a relationship with a new place? What are you doing this Summer to improve your relationship?
Picture found here.